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Tuesday, 08 October 2013 14:02

Smart meters – a revelation in energy management

25DEGREES in Africa looks at the latest local and international innovations in smart metering.

In an interview at African Utility Week 2013, Peter Verstergren Akesen, solutions manager at Kamstrup, explained that utilities often choose technology without first checking that the functionality is appropriate to an area’s requirements.

“Utilities must take a step back and ask what it is that they wish to achieve or measure. The technology should then be chosen to deliver on these needs only,” said Akesen.

Government utilities are increasingly turning towards advanced metering infrastructure systems as part of various “smart grid” initiatives. More and more, industry conversations refer to smart grids and positive energy, but finally the time has come to focus on the most interesting technology.

 Smart meters extend advanced meter reading technology by allowing commands to be sent to and from systems for multiple purposes, including “time-of-use” pricing information and demand-response actions.

New technology

Climate change and skyrocketing temperatures have seen utility bills rise by a larger percentage in the past decade than it did in 50 years. Recently, the MIT Technology Review announced that development is being done on a gadget that will make it possible to determine exactly how much electricity is spent on home appliances. This could make it easier to determine when it’s time to replace old appliances or opt for different solutions to everyday tasks, such as using a heat pump instead of a geyser.

The Belkin Echo Electricity is a device that connects to the utility meter and monitors the “noise” emitted by electrical appliances plugged into wall outlets. A sensor tracks the electromagnetic interference signatures that certain appliances emit over power lines when turned on and off, or changed from one state to another. A Wi-Fi chip within the device uploads the data online, where algorithms are able to analyse it to see what appliances are on and how much power they’re consuming at any given time.

Energy data that is uploaded online through a Wi-Fi chip in the device is visualised with a demo application that displays details such as what percentage of power is being used by appliances.

Echo Electricity builds on technology acquired from an energy-monitoring start-up called Zensi, together with the doctoral work of a University of Washington doctoral candidate, Sidhant Gupta.

Kevin Ashton, general manager at Belkin, says: “The more visible we can make waste, the more we can take advantage of everyone’s natural waste aversion and help you to become less wasteful.”

Smart meters

According to a recent report by Frost & Sullivan, “Are you ready for the prepaid meter revolution: All you need to know about the benefits of prepaid meters”, smart meters can be defined as an advanced meter that identifies the electricity consumption pattern in better detail as compared to a conventional meter. Smart meters have basic functions that conventional meters do not possess.

The benefits of smart meters (Frost & Sullivan):

  1. Consumers will enjoy more accurate billing. Smart meters will facilitate the replacement of consumption estimates, which are a major source of customer complaints. Furthermore, consumers can use smart meters as a tool that helps them to better manage their energy consumption and thus reduce costs.
  2. Governments could profit from a reduction in resource consumption (water, power) and a reduction in CO2 emissions. In addition, investments in smart metering could represent a moderate stimulus for the economy with the involvement of industry players across deployment projects.
  3. Utilities can obtain savings from remote reading or remote activation/deactivation of services. Additionally, they will have accurate data that could help to develop more efficient billing and load management systems, as well as reduced outage times. <BLOCK END>

In order to make significant reductions, ambitious energy savings measures need to be implemented. Smart initiatives such as 49M have made this easier for consumers by suggesting to “switch off” or to simply use electricity in smarter, more efficient ways.

Recently, issues have come under the attention of companies that are constantly looking for easier, smarter ways to save on electricity and avoid that dreaded sky-high bill or blackout. One of these solutions is, of course, pay-as-you-go meters.

South African company, Kayema Energy Solutions, provides energy systems that utilise a web-based, user-friendly interface. Applications include smart power metering, which determines and monitors areas of a building or facility consuming the most power. The system also provides a function to audit utility accounts and the logging of historic data to improve future energy consumption.

Peak demand management is integrated into the building management system (BMS) to reduce the peak electricity demand through predictions. Significant reductions can be achieved through a function that automatically calculates and adjusts electricity usage according to the predetermined maximum peak. The system sends signals to equipment to balance the loads and switch off non-essential equipment during high-use periods.

With the increasing pressure put on governments to provide more electricity with scarce resources, it has become a challenge for industry to effectively control its electricity usage.

Another solution, which proves to be more effective in industries such as hospitality, corporate or public spaces, is to install automatically-controlled devices that are able to monitor the use of electricity in each separate space. An example of the successful use of such devices is the Cape Verde Hotel, Africa’s greenest hotel, which was recently opened in Cape Town.

Less than 10% of sub-Saharan African rural households have access to electricity, with an overall access rate below 25%.

Another pioneer of managing power in the hospitality industry is SMSPowersaver with their units which can put any device “off” or “on” from a central distance. Computer operated, the boards have proven to provide power savings of up to 25% and include the added benefit of an Eskom rebate of 42 cent on every kW saved for a three year span.

The SMSPowersaver device is able to switch geysers, air-conditioners or any device under 4 kW, “on” or “off” from a central operating point, such as a desktop computer. Money saved on energy costs goes straight to the bottom line, which makes businesses more competitive. They don’t have to rely on staff walking to each unit/room to manually put power units like geysers/air conditioners, “off” or “on”! By implementing simple energy-efficiency measures like the SMSPowerSaver units, businesses can also increase their levels of customer satisfaction.

The PowerWatch software from Energy Cybernetics is a patented technology developed in South Africa for SA-specific conditions. The software interfaces with metering devices to generate real-time visuals that track, measure and evaluate the consumption of energy as well as identify areas of inefficiency. Problematic areas can therefore receive immediate corrective action to ensure unnecessary energy use, and avoids critical equipment failure.

The PowerWatch system also provides updated information on consumption in comparison to targets set, and ideal platform to monitor energy management initiatives. The system can be installed on virtually any digital electricity meter. Its open architecture allows for the integration to building management systems, SCADA systems, accounting software and any other software system that supports open interfaces.

Advantages of smart meters Disadvantages of smart meters Eliminates manual meter reading. Transition to new technology and processes. Monitors electricity usage efficiently. Managing and storing vast amounts of data. Provides real-time data. Accuracy needs to be verified. Helps consumers to optimise income. Smart meters often come with installation fees. Offers detailed feedback on usage. Long-term financial commitment by consumers and suppliers. Enables consumers to adjust habits. 

The ability to accurately measure energy usage is a vital component in practising energy saving behaviours, no matter which way you look at it.

The United Kingdom’s smart metering initiative aims to use meters to help suppliers better understand their customers, identify their needs and to design products and services accordingly. This could include new tariff structures, such as time-of-use tariffs, that will reward customers for responsible energy use behaviour.

The demand for electricity in African countries often exceeds the supply capability. Smart metering systems will be able to provide methods of managing the demand on both the consumer and supplier side of a network. Kobus van den Berg, an electrical engineer at Aurecon, says: “The extensive functionality of a smart metering system is not always fully appreciated. However, collecting vast amounts of system data is in itself pointless – the value is in the management of the data. The solution lies in the integration with a highly effective Meter Data Management System (MDMS) and being able to demonstrate benefits for the consumer.”

Frost & Sullivan mentions that, in order to turn energy shortage challenges into business opportunities, stakeholders of the energy sector need to leverage the power of emerging technologies and new business models to create a revolutionary strategy.

Smart meters may be the solution to manage Africa’s constant rising electricity demand, given that it is carefully integrated into the distribution system with a specialised MDMS. Energy should be seen as a treasure and a rare resource, and should be used and managed in a clever way: minimising and optimising consumption, while securing the metering device and associated payment solutions.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to the MIT Technology Review, GJS Technologies, www.aurecongroup.com, European Utility Week, Energy Cybernetics, Frost & Sullivan and Kayema Energy Solutions for the information given to write this article.

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